Purdue might have only three healthy, experienced running backs, but the Boilermakers still feel as though they'll be able to go deep in the backfield.
Because of Purdue's penchant for using others - likely wide receivers, and perhaps even backup quarterback Rob Henry - as runners.
"I think with our personnel groupings, we're able to hide our lack of depth at that spot a little bit," offensive coordinator Gary Nord said. "With Akeem Shavers being the No. 1, and Akeem Hunt being No. 2, those guys are very consistent and can play every play for you."
But at running back, at least, Purdue has few other options. Fifth-year senior Ralph Bolden is recovering from an ACL tear, his third, and might not be ready for the opener, or the season. Gavin Roberts, while a senior, has never had a carry, while Brandon Cottom, a sophomore fullback, showed promise early last season before tearing his ACL. He's looked good - and healthy - during the first half of camp.
On the third day of training camp, Purdue moved freshman quarterback Robert Gregory to running back, in an effort to bolster numbers there.
But like last year, Purdue will use receivers Antavian Edison and Raheem Mostert in the backfield; the duo combined for 232 yards in 2011, averaging more than five yards per handoff.
"We may have to manufacture some running back play from other skill position plays on our offense because we are thin at that position," Danny Hope said. "But I like the guys we have, they're all fast and all guys you can count on to do their best.
"I don't anticipate our running game dropping off any at all. I expect us to be very good as far as a rushing offense this year."
Assuming Shavers, who rose to the primary back after Bolden's injury, picks up where he left off - the senior had 149 yards in the bowl game, and more than 500 for the season - a key to Purdue's attack is Hunt. A sophomore, the 5-foot-9, 184-pounder had 287 yards as a true freshman, averaging a whooping 8.7 per attempt.
But Hunt was largely using only his sprinter's-class speed to beat defenses; now, he's feeling more like a football player.
"I feel like I'm making great process," he said at Media Day, "especially on my blocking assignments, because I'm bigger and stronger now."
Bolden's return would be helpful. Purdue's leading rusher a year ago, Bolden tore his ACL in the regular-season finale vs. Indiana. He's rehabbing now, but not involved in contact drills. A mid-season return, or perhaps earlier, would give the Boilermakers a boost.
But his injury in part led Purdue to shifting Gregory. The 6-3, 195-pound rookie is trying to acclimate to his new position as quickly as possible after playing quarterback for his nearly whole football career. Some parts translate easily - he can run - but picking up the nuances of the position, i.e. blocking and assignments, is a little more difficult.
"It's all a learning experience for me," he said. "I would love to get on the field. I came in ready to play; it's just hard work.
"I'm here trying to help the team and trying to get on the field."
Bolden thinks the backs will be fine.
"We can always use more," he joked, "but I feel pretty confident about our running backs. A lot of guys know what to do, Shavers, Hunt, Roberts, Cottom. Everybody looks pretty good in camp."
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